Play Therapy and Eating Disorders: Healing our inner child

When we develop an eating disorder, suddenly our inner artist, our inner dancer, our inner child is suffocated by food, control, and obsession.  That young child can be locked inside of ourselves until we begin to embrace recovery, release our behaviors, and allow ourselves to feel our authentic feelings once more.  Many of us might fear what will come if we let our locked-up feelings out to play.  While there may be a flood of emotion, many of those feelings are ones that a child — a trapped child — would naturally express without the tarnished pain of an eating disorder.  You may feel joy, release, spontaneity, laughter, curiosity, and energy.  If you are suffering from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, you may be ready to play once again with your youthful, innocent inner child.

How can play therapy be effective in treating eating disorders?  When eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia force us to live in a controlled, un-changing world, we can lose sense of the creativity that burst from us as a child and as ourselves before eating disorders took over.  Art therapy, music therapy and dance therapy can in this way be very powerful in helping us to reconnect.  Play therapy, such as using puppets to re-create or renew different parts of ourselves can encourage us to look at our lives in a new and different way — “outside of the box”.  When eating disorders are in control, we may feel as if we have no choice in what we think, feel, or do — we “must” schedule our days according to when and what the eating disorder wants us to eat and how associated behaviors will be planned out.  It’s very constrictive and confining.

Do you remember when you were a child and you loved to play?  What were your favorite games?  One of mine was dressing up in costumes and putting on plays for my family and friends.  I would inhabit different characters and create a life that I wanted to inhabit.  Did you like to draw?  Play in the sand?  Play with dolls, stuffed animals, or toy cars?  How did you express your feelings on a given day though what you played with and how?

Using play therapy as a child, adolescent or adult with an eating disorder can inspire us to “play out our feelings”, instead of having them locked up inside of us.  We may have wounds from our past that are still affecting us today (being called “fat” on the playground in third grade), but we do have the choice of how much we want these wounds to have a place in our current lives.  By using play, we can externalize these feelings, give them names, give them identities, and physically throw them, hug them, or do whatever else with them that will help us soothe our inner child.

Here are a few ideas for how you can play your way to recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder and give your inner child the freedom to dance:

  • Invite a child in your life (a niece, brother, friend, sister) to show you his/her favorite way to play.  Try to see their play world through their eyes and not your own.
  • Jump on a trampoline as you did when you were a child.  Embrace the reckless feeling of it and the fun of never knowing where you will land next.
  • Look through old albums of your childhood.  Try to put yourself back in those places where you felt happiest and most free.  Who were you with?  What did you love to play with?  What characters did you inhabit?
  • Go through a child’s book and pick out the images that most soothe your inner child’s soul.  Draw those images on a big sheet of drawing paper and organize them in the way that most touches the needs of the little girl or boy inside of you.
  • Find some of your old toys, or ask your parents about what you most liked to play with.  Try to bring yourself back to that place of imagination, mystery and wonder.  What stories would you play out now?
  • Go to a dog park and play with the dogs.  Animals are the most natural beings at play, and they never lose their sense of wonder or excitement.  They are children forever!
Eating disorders can make your world feel like it is very dark and small.  They can offer you the choice of black or gray, and give you a hard sheet of metal with which to work.  Where do you play?  Who is the child within you that begs for freedom from restrictive behaviors, from self-destructive eating patterns, from guilt and shame?  You can find that child simply by inviting him or her out to play.

Mother’s New Little Helper: Is sleep medication the answer to escaping a demanding mind?

Lots of things have been said to be able to help you sleep: warm milk and tea before bed on my cosy mattress from Shop Eva, a bubbly bath, or even a glass of wine.  With our ever-demanding and relentless jobs and lives, it’s a wonder that any of us sleep at all!  Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article entitled Sleep Medication: Mother’s Newest Little Helper, sparking a conversation about why women tend to have trouble sleeping and what this means for their mental health.  The women interviewed for this article described the tape that keeps them awake at 3am: “I need to call that guy about fixing the car. I think I’ve run out my daughter’s favorite snack. Should I change the batteries in the smoke alarm?”.  Sound like a tape that might run in your mind?  I certainly own my own version.

Nearly one in three women in America admits to using some kind of sleep aid to help them sleep at least a few nights a week – the most common being Lunesta or melantonin, and some forms of anxiety medications and antidepressants are also used to help numb the mind.  Medications like Xanax can be addictive, causing some women to “lay off” them for a few days and risk a sleepless night.  Tylenol PM also runs the same risk of dependency, and as Chris Baldwin laments, “the mornings after I stop taking them for a bit, I get a hangover.”  How’s a woman to win?

Is this sleepless life new for women?  Certainly not.  Women outnumber men significantly as patients in sleep clinics, causing clinicians to ponder if they suffer from insomnia more than men do.  Women in today’s society constantly struggle with making daily decisions and often feel as if they are ‘barely afloat’.  Many women, both partnered and single, may feel pressure to be both the breadwinner in the family and also the primary caretaker of children.  New motherhood is commonly a cause of sleepless nights — nearly 84% of new mothers report insomnia when they have an infant — but why does insomnia extend past the infant stage?

Many parents are ‘trained’ to keep one ear open to see if their children need them in the night, even if the kids are sleeping soundly in their beds.  This habit of wakefulness can persist unless the parent consciously takes steps to cease the pattern and to get more sleep.  In a study performed by Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, three out of four patients were women and 80 percent of the women reported ‘being just too stressed or worried to turn out the proverbial lights.”  The article cites a myth that is all too commonly believed: that children are the cause for a parent’s insomnia.  The truth is that it is mothers who keep themselves awake, as they struggle with defining when and how they can ‘turn off’ for the night.

In addition to the constant tape of “I should, I need to, I have to remember…” that keeps us awake at times when our bodies want to naturally begin the sleep process, sleep clinicians are pointing to the ever-accesible presence of technology that stimulate our minds.

Do you have the itch to check your email just one more time before turning out the light?  Do you read an iPad or brightly lit digital reader right before bed?  Do you keep your smartphone by your bedside?  These highly animated and active devices also leave your brain activated and dancing around — never to be truly ‘turned off’.

Some women have noted that their perfectionist mentalities — the same drive that makes us want to “be everything to everyone” can keep them awake.  Thoughts of “how am I going to create a five-course meal after working all day and helping the kids with homework??” can increase anxiety not just at night but during the daytime as well.

One of the interesting points of the article that I took home, both as a therapist and as a woman, was that for some women the ‘3am worry hour’ may be the only time they get to themselves.  At 3am, no one is demanding anything of them or needing them to do something — they are left to their own devices.  It’s a ‘break’ from the waking day, a time when there might not seem to be enough hours to get everything done.  A child psychiatrist from New York notes that she was able to study for her board exams during the 4am-6am hours when no one else was awake and she couldn’t sleep.

Stress, anxiety, and “worrying and then worrying about the worry” can plague us all.  They can rob us of our sleep and our well-being.  What helps you to sleep?  And does it come at a cost?


Wandering and wondering: finding our purpose in an overwhelming world

What is your life’s purpose?  Does thinking about that question cause you to break out in cold sweats as you find it more and more difficult to breathe?  Relax – I understand the panic about finding ‘who you are’, ‘what you’re meant to do’, ‘what direction should you go?’ and other perplexing thoughts, and so do thousands of other people.  Today, the Denver Post ran an article about “The Sophomore Slump” in college, discussing how “sophomores feel anxiety about choosing life direction, deciding on a career path and picking a major; social pressure to find their place on campus, losing high-school friendship ties, questioning their identity and developing autonomy from parents.”  All of this can cause anxiety and depression.  Whew!  That’s a long list of life-defining choices, and, as the article states and many of us have experienced, after the excitement of freshman year wears off we are often left to wonder: who am I?  What I would like to share with them: “Relax! Enjoy college, follow your dreams, and you will find your place.”

These questions do not only hit at sophomore year of college.  In fact, they can cycle into our lives at many different intervals.  For some, these questions come to surface after college graduation as we wonder if we should go to graduate school or hit the job market.  Due to economic strains and new opportunities in education, an increasing number of the adult population is embarking upon a midlife career change and these questions can spark and ignite fire: what are my core values? what are my personal strengths?  which career path will make me feel most fulfilled?  what other parts of my life have purpose — having a family, a home, spending time traveling the world?  How do I make all of these fit into my reality, and how can they co-exist in a balanced way?

The Post’s article describes the “sophomore slump”, a time of transition between ‘new-and-exciting freshman year’ and adjusting to the pressures of making life decisions and managing growing responsibilities.  It’s the year of finding purpose…or at least poking around for it.  I remember my sophomore year of college vividly.  I was following my passion and studying European history, but there was a persistent malaise brewing underneath my daily consciousness that whispered to me: “you know that this is not going to turn into a career for you.  You do not want to be a history teacher.  What are you going to do with this degree?”.  I felt both overwhelmed and inspired by all of the opportunities presented to me in college, both academically and socially.  I could choose from hundreds of courses to take and further my budding curiosity.  I could choose to join the tennis team, or participate in theatre.  It was like high school exemplified and glorified; so many choices, combined with my highly anxious and perfectionistic perspective, made me want to crawl in a hole and hide away at times.

How do we deal with the pressure to “be our best person”, to “make lots of money so that we can buy a house, a car, a trip to Europe”?  And why do we need to listen to the messages that society tells us, saying that we need to do these things?  Peer pressure much?  Many people get stuck in jobs and careers that they are not passionate about because they have so many financial obligations that need to be met.  What if you could meet those needs, as well as meet the needs of your soul and spirit — find a direction in life that is inspiring and energizing, a purpose that feels like home?

This may involve taking a risk.  If you are able to do so, I encourage you to take that risk.  Risk following your passion, pursuing your purpose.  Have you always loved creating artistic pieces of jewelry but didn’t believe that it could ‘be a career’?  Try selling some of your pieces and committing yourself to the process of feeling it out as a possible life transition.  When we let go of some of the things that hold us back and stifle our energy, we may find that the world is open and ready for us to channel that passion into our authentic selves.

I took a risk and went to graduate school for something completely unrelated to my previous schooling focus.  As I embarked on this new pursuit, that voice came back to me, and instead of whispering it shouted: “Here, you belong.  You have found your place!”  But it took many years of learning, experimenting, trying on different hats for my life’s purpose to finally be ready to surface.  I believe that these unique experiences, in their somewhat unexplainable process, knew where they were leading me all along.  I just needed to open up my heart to welcome my purpose.  What do you need to do?


Loving the shape of a mother: the beauty of a postpartum body and the struggles it can spark

Women in today’s society are sent message after message about how they should look.  What generous gifts these messages are!  According to Western society, women “should” be not too tall, have tanned, unblemished skin or perfectly alabaster skin, shiny modern hair, and of course, you can never be skinny enough.  When a woman becomes pregnant, an event that is the most natural and beautiful process a woman can embody, the messages she is sent about her looks are intensified:  you can’t gain more than xxx amount of weight!  You must wear pregnancy-flattering clothes!  You must not ‘let yourself go’ (my favorite)!  When is a woman just allowed to be?  Allowed to experience the magic of another person growing inside of her without being told she needs to “do this and be that” for the whole nine months?  There also appear to be rules that change when a woman gets pregnant — I have had several pregnant friends lament about the way complete strangers come up to them and put their hands on their belly.  Would anyone do that to you if you weren’t pregnant?

I was recently introduced to the site The Shape of a Mother, which is an inspirational, and amazingly real forum where new mothers “of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities can share images of their bodies so it will no longer be secret. So we can finally see what women really look like sans airbrushes and plastic surgery. I think it would be nothing short of amazing if a few of our hearts are healed, or if we begin to cherish our new bodies which have done so much for the human race. What if the next generation grows up knowing how normal our bodies are?”.  The intent of this site’s creator is to throw away the shame that be felt when a new mother is not comfortable in her new body — often due to the influence of society’s messages.  When actresses and celebrities are “losing the baby weight” within a few weeks of having a child, it’s difficult to not feel insecure about your own post-baby body.  But this is not Hollywood, and this site is a safe place for women of all backgrounds to share their stories.

The site is filled with photos of “real bodies”, adjusting to life after giving birth.  These pictures might shed light on parts of the body that would normally be hidden by clothes out of shame or embarrassment.  Here, they are proudly expressed, openly celebrated, and joyfully worshipped.  Women of all ages share their stories — not only of body insecurities and observations, but of what their pregnancy and birth experience was like.  Women share photos of their children, their bodies, their families.  They emphasize what is most important to them: health, family, love.  Some share about wanting to hide their post-pregnancy belly or stretch marks, and with encouragement from other new moms, these women find support for being thankful for the gifts they have received from their experience.

One new mom shares: “The only message I have from this post is to love your body, not matter what size and shape.I realized how much time I wasted on wishing I was thinner. Because when I look back, I dont think about how much I hated the way I looked, I think about how my daughter has grown and how smart she has become and how beautiful she is growing up to be. Be your own kind of beautiful, because we are all beautiful!”

The Shape of a Mother is a light amidst a swirling and menacing hurricane.  The honesty shared here is hard to find; society doesn’t talk much about the reality of accepting a post-baby body.  I am inspired by these women and know that this website is a wonderful resource for women who are thinking about getting pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are adjusting to life as a new mother.


Scribing the Soul: a narrative into the authentic catharsis of journal therapy

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference put on by People House in Denver entitled “Scribing the Soul: Transforming your life through the power of writing”.  One of the things that I love about my profession (as well as one of the most overwhelming aspects) is that there are continually  options for extended education in the form of workshops, conferences, classes, certifications, courses, etc etc.  I am often in awe of all that the Denver community (and beyond) has to offer!  This particular conference caught my eye because it combined two of the things that are closest to my heart:  writing and therapy.  They are like two peas in a pod, they way that those two topics intertwine and play off of one another.  I anticipated the conference with bated breath, as I hoped it would be a space for me to “reconnect with my writing self”.

The conference featured keynote speaker Kay Adams, LPC, RPT, who is the founder and director of the Center for Journal Therapy and who is also a best-selling author, speaker, psychotherapist, and one of the living masters in the field of writing and healing.  Kay is known as the “voice of journal therapy”, and as I listened to her talk the first evening, I was entranced by her poetic words as much as I was moved by her commitment to the therapeutic power of journal therapy.  I was inspired.  I knew that my hunch was spot-on, and that I would be re-introduced to my writer’s self, a soul who is always inside of me but who has been muffled for the past few years.  Kay spoke of keeping a journal since she was a young girl, and continuing to keep one for years after and still to this day — feats that I find not only impressive, but quite enlightening to her belief that writing heals our souls.

Kay posed a challenge:  “Write what your heart thinks”.  Wow, what a door to step inside of, and I wasn’t even sure I was quite ready to clear that doorframe.  I haven’t journaled for many years, maybe eight or so.  Before I took this break (insinuating that that this is just only a break), I was an avid journal keeper, often filling pages and pages with my daily thoughts, hopes, fears, insights, and behaviors.  Then I experienced a very challenging time in my life, during which I journaled all of the time but then suddenly stopped.  Now that I think back on it, the end of my journaling for that period sparked the beginning of my healing.  Why did I stop journaling?

I don’t believe I’ve ever truly stopped journaling.  These days it appears in writing in the academic form or in blog format such as this.  I have dreams of penning my own book in the next couple of years, and I am certain that it will not be in either of those two formats!  My heart is always thinking, but not often do I write what it is telling me.  Am I afraid to know its words?  Was that challenging time in my life too intense to bring me back to the written words of my soul?

Kay and the other practitioners at the conference teased these thoughts out of me and onto the page.  I was posed the phrase: “I am one who…” and finished the sentence in my journal.  As I reached into the depths of my being (not necessarily cob-webby, but could use a little shining up), I felt come forth: “I am one who embraces curiosity and strives for imperfect balance and happiness;”  “I am one who yearns for love of my self, or perhaps to rediscover that love.”  I realized as I was ‘scribing my soul’ that this openness wasn’t quite as terrifying as I had originally convinced myself it would be….it was actually quite liberating and refreshing.  Which, dare I say, might have been the purpose of journal therapy all along??

The Center for Journal Therapy, founded in 1988 embodies a mission to make the healing art of journal writing accessible to all who desire self-directed change.  The Center trains professionals to be journal therapy practitioners through the Therapeutic Writing Institute, and sends them out into the world to help others heal through journal writing.  Each practitioner has his/her own interest or niche in journal therapy, and we got the chance to take three different workshops with the practitioners.  I chose first to participate in my colleague and friend Carolyn Jennings’ workshop “Writing Our Wings of Recovery“.  Carolyn and I are both impassioned by eating disorder recovery and she has penned her own inspirational memoir Hunger Speaks, which is a poetic recount of her journey towards recovery.  In this workshop, as well as the “Body Stories” workshop I attended with Debbie McCulliss, I learned valuable tools for body image awareness and eating disorder recovery that I can directly apply to my own clients’ journeys in therapy.  Debbie challenged us to write about “what story does my body have to tell me?  what message is it trying to tell me?”, along with many more provocative writing prompts that will encourage my clients as well as people everywhere to examine their beliefs about their bodies and to free any built-up constraints though journaling.  She left us with: “The body provides innate wisdom and plenty of opportunity to write.”  I am ready to listen.

I could write for hours about what I learned, experienced, and took with me from this conference.  I think the most important key, one that can be applied anywhere and by anyone, is that writing does not need to “be” a certain way, or to “do” a certain thing.  Just write, and your heart will guide your way.

 


“A place of our own”: Raising the roof on a groundbreaking eating disorder support center

Yesterday evening, September 25th, marked the first “unveiling” of the work-in-progress support center: “A place of our own”.  The Eating Disorder Foundation, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado, has been providing education and support for those affected by eating disorders and their families since 2005.  Now, in February 2012, the EDF will open a state-of-the-art support center where people struggling with eating disorders and presenting with varying degrees of recovery can come and hang out in a safe place.  “A place of our own” will be the first of its kind in the nation and is blazing the trail for increased advocacy, education, and awareness in eating disorder treatment and recovery.

I have been volunteering with the EDF for the past two and a half years, participating in projects such as educational presentations in schools and organizing outreach events, but most of my time has been spent in facilitating the weekly ANAD support group for those struggling with eating disorders (Tuesdays, 6:30-8pm; free.  Contact me for more information).  Through this group, I have been honored to be invited into the lives of the members in an intimate and supportive way, and I have developed deep relationships with group members as well as other volunteers involved with the foundation.  Toni Saiber, the founder of EDF, has tirelessly put the word out about the need for attention and education towards eating disorder recovery.  She and the 300 people who attended the fundraiser yesterday evening plus other supporters are saving lives every day.

Are you a professional or someone with interest in volunteering with the Eating Disorder Foundation?  We need volunteers at our new support center!  We are looking for facilitators to help out with a plethora of new groups and classes: you could facilitate and educational class or a movement group, you could run a support group, conduct a workshop, present a town hall meeting, or lead a recreational activity.  The purpose of the support center is to “help people integrate what they learn into their everyday lives, thus increasing the chances for longterm change.”  By giving to others, our lives are forever touched and changed.

Classes and groups are not meant as treatment, but as resources to help build resiliency and skills to support recovery.  “A place of our own” will be a place where people can come and hang out, with no expectations or pressure – something that is often foreign in the world that eating disorders create.  It is a safe place where you will not be judged for who you are or where you are on your journey towards recovery.  It is a positive, healthy space where members can inspire and encourage one another.  When I think about this idea, my heart skips a beat.  Though eating disorders are increasing in numbers, variety, and severity, having a place like the EDF’s support center is going to battle those numbers and provide acceptance and hope in a world where there can be so much pain.

When we come together, we heal.

As the gold and red autumn leaves were falling around the new support center yesterday evening, I had a vision of what will be going on in that very space just six months from now.  There will be people hanging out in the garden, reading books.  They might be quietly discussing tools for healthy mind and healthy body.  A yoga class will be in session upstairs in the group room.  There will be volunteers on hand to guide a person away from harm and towards recovery.  Or, they will just sit and be with themselves.  Sometimes, just being present in the moment and appreciating its gifts is all that is needed.

The Eating Disorder Foundation is offering those who struggle with eating disorders a helping hand.  You are not alone.  I am so inspired by the work and vision of the EDF, and by those who will use this space as a gateway to their own recovery.

For more information about “A place of our own” and how you can help, go to www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.

 

 


When eating disorders turn to non-food objects: what is pica and how serious are its consequences?

Pica is one of the least known eating disorders because of its bizarre nature and its relatively new arrival on the eating disorder scene.  What is pica?  A person afflicted with pica has a persistent craving for a substance that is not commonly considered food.  These substances are largely non-nutritive (clay, laundry detergent, coal, chalk, sand, gum, tacks, and other office supplies) and ingesting them can be very medically dangerous.  To be considered pica, the symptoms must persist for more than one month and must occur at a time when it is not developmentally appropriate (usually at ages older than 18 months).  Pica most commonly occurs in children and pregnant women, and it is seen in many animals, particularly dogs.  The disorder can show up in children and adults with developmental difficulties such as autism or Down’s Syndrome.  The word pica originated from the Latin word for magpie, which are birds that are known to eat just about anything.

Why does pica impact pregnant women?  Clinicians and doctors think that craving a substance that is not food may be an indicator that the woman is dealing with a vitamin or nutrient deficiency such as low calcium or iron, and this can typically happen in families that live in poverty.  Pica usually goes away after childbirth in theses cases, but can also continue into the post-partum period.  In some cultures, the eating of non-food substances is traditionally accepted and practiced.  However, pica is spreading to Western cultures that do not have such traditions and it can cause serious medical conditions (especially in pregnant women) such as:

  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Intestinal infections or parasites from soil
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Lead poisoning – especially in children
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Mercury poisoning

So is pica considered to be an eating disorder?  It is not currently listed in the diagnostic manual (DSM), but is being considered for future inclusion.  Eating substances that are not food can be a way of managing both weight and emotional issues.  Someone suffering from anorexia may eat clay or plastic in an attempt to stave off extreme hunger and not gain weight.  Others may eat a substance that helps them to avoid painful feelings because of the intensity of the taste of what they are eating.  Sometimes, eating a substance might bring back memories of a good time or of a loved one who has passed away and this can be the person’s way of connecting with those feelings.

Some professionals feel that pica is more associated with sensory processing or feeding disorders and not eating disorders.  The lines can be blurry.  What is common between eating disorder and pica are the severe medical concerns that can occur as a result of the eating or restricting of substances.  Consuming substances (whether it is ingestible or not) can alter the way that your brain functions and can affect the person’s emotional state.  Eating a painful or dangerous substance can be a way of avoiding, of self-punishing, or of getting pleasure in a non-traditional way.  I consider pica to be an eating disorder because it involves consuming substance in a way that is not normal or healthy.  This is common with other types of eating disorders.

What causes pica? While professionals are still not sure the exact cause, pica can be influenced by malnutrition, poverty, emotional deprivation, anemia, neglect, lack of parental supervision or parental abuse, or developmental delays.  Consulting a medical doctor as well as working with a therapist are essential in recovery from pica.  Many people with this condition need to be medically stabilized and ensure that there is no internal damage before he or she can begin working on the emotional consequences and causes of the disorder.  It is also very important to try to prevent this issue turning into another type of eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.  If self-esteem is an issue for the person, he or she may have a belief that they do not deserve to eat “real” foods.

I find it essential to strive for awareness about any type of mental disorder that may affect those that we know, love, and treat.  The more we know, the more we can help to relieve emotional and physical pain.  A condition such as pica, though relatively rare, possess behaviors that are so abnormal for our development that it forces us to take note.  In some cases, engaging in serious pica behaviors is a way of self-harm and potential bodily failure.  If you or someone you know may show symptoms of pica, consult a medical professional immediately.

 

 


Can you talk the talk if you haven’t walked the walk?: why therapists need to be clients themselves

One of my greatest strengths as a therapist is the fact that I am human.  I am achingly human.  In school, they try to teach therapists-in-training how to set boundaries between yourself and your client — how to leave the feelings, emotions, and process of therapy in the office so that it doesn’t affect your home and personal life.  On the other hand, we are taught (and it is reinforced) that having empathy is a primary asset of a great therapist.  So….being able to “walk in my client’s shoes” should help me become a more dynamic therapist, but I also need to learn to leave those shoes at the front door.  Whew!  This is one of my biggest challenges currently in my career.

Being able to feel and connect with clients can help build that relationship that allows the client to feel safe and secure to risk what it would be like to make some changes in his or her life.  I think that this ability to empathize deeply with clients can ignite a charge of positive progress in the therapy, and I also think that this quality needs to be carefully monitored.  Therapists are at risk of burn-out if they don’t engage in self-care on a regular basis.  And I think that being a client ourselves is one of the highest forms of self care — for several reasons.

I have had clients ask me if I have been in therapy myself.  Honestly, I can’t imagine not having been in therapy, and I am quite open about it.  When I chose my career path (or it chose me…), much of the drive and inspiration that took me there came from experiences and growth I have had in my own years of being a client in therapy.  I learned valuable tools to help myself find peace and happiness and I also learned a lot about the therapy process itself.  How could I know that I wanted to be a therapist if I’d never laid on that couch?  I couldn’t imagine it.  In my training program, we were encouraged to attend therapy ourselves, and though it was not required, it was given to us for free.  This, my university and professors thought, helps to build an amazing counselor — one who knows what it’s like to be across from the therapist, one who is open to working on his/her own issues, and one who can process the anxiety and awkwardness of a first therapy session with you — because they’ve been there.

I am writing about this today because I feel it is crucial for our interests and most especially for the interests of our clients that therapists engage in self-care.  A therapist who is burned out and has no outlet to process will have challenges being present for his or her clients.  I also think that if we are in therapy, or have been in therapy, we are showing a commitment to the therapeutic alliance itself.  We believe in it.  We respect it.  We are just like everyone else.  I get the sense that sometimes therapists are regarded as “in power” or “the leader” in the therapy room.  This, in my opinion, is furthest from the truth.  The client is the expert of his/her own life and story, and the therapist is the listener and sometimes the guide.  I know that if I was a client today and my therapist shared with me that he/she has been in therapy at some point in their lives, I would feel very connected to my therapist — that he or she is a person, just like me, who has things they need to work out, just like me.  And they care enough about themselves (and their clients) to talk to someone about those issues.

Going back to the start: I am human.  This serves me well sometimes, as it enables me to empathize and connect with clients on a very real level.  This also challenges me sometimes, as I work to define my own emotions in my own life.  Therefore, I go to therapy.  Going to therapy, though it can come with all sorts of pre-conceived notions and judgments, is the act of a strong and resilient person — someone who cares enough about him or herself to commit the effort to making a better life for themselves.  I’m not going to lie — it often takes a lot of hard work, patience, and honesty.  But for me, those three are virtues in the handbook of freedom and happiness.  Being a client in therapy has made me a better woman, therapist, friend, family member, and citizen.

What has it done for you?


What perpetuates food hoarding?: the surprising underlying causes of this survivalist behavior

When I began doing research for this blog post, I admit I did not think food hoarding would be much different than hoarding of other things.  In some ways it’s not.  But I was surprised to read about many of the causes and underlying issues surrounding the behavior of hiding, stealing, or obsessing about “needing” to have much more food than your body requires to survive.  In fact, food hoarding is all about surviving.  According to a website I found on parenting tips, “Often food hoarding is directly connected to significant neglect that the child has experienced in consistently having their basic needs for life sustaining food denied or inadequately met”.  Not having basic survival needs met as a child can perpetuate a pre-mature self-reliancy, and the child might begin to think that he or she needs to continually provide for themselves and be in “survival mode/mentality”.  Needing to take care of him or herself before the child is developmentally ready for this life task can lead to emotional regulation issues, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and challenges adjusting to future life cycle changes.

Another site that popped up in my research was one providing resources for children and adults with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  In the discussion, the author talks about the high numbers of foster or adoptive children developing RAD, with one of its primary behaviors being food hoarding.  An adoptive child that came from an orphanage or from a family where food was not readily available (perhaps a family with substance abuse issues) may have needed to forage for food in places where it was scarce and unpleasant to search, such as in a dumpster.  While the child may be provided with plenty of healthy food in his/her adoptive family, the mentality of “not enough” or “getting food wherever I can” can stick, as it was imprinted in their minds at a very young age.  If they were neglected, they might still hang onto the fear that their needs will not be met.  This perpetuates survival mentality.

The author of this blog also brought up an interesting point about RAD and food hoarding:  the child or adult might feel that there can never be enough food to fill the gaping hole in their heart.  I see this type of behavior often in the work that I do with people struggling with disordered eating and recovering from trauma.  The “inner hunger”, which many people try to fill with food or alcohol (or other band-aid substances) will never be filled by these material things; in fact, the hole will only get bigger because of the emotional damage that these behaviors inflict.  For many people who develop eating disorders, there is a sense that there “is never enough” — which, when looked at in a deeper way, aligns with a belief they hold that “I am never enough”.  It seems that this theme can be occurring in people with food hoarding issues and with RAD.  How often does food hoarding turn into an ED and vice versa?  In binge eating disorder and bulimia, there are definite links to food hoarding, linking to the almost obsessive feeling of needing to have and eat enough food until all of the feelings have gone numb.

We all have some type of emotional attachment to food.  It can bring up fond memories of grandma’s kitchen or can help you show your family how much you love them.  When attached to the survival fear of not having enough, food can become an obsession.  How does one treat or recover from food hoarding?  I think that it helps to look at the issue from a comprehensive perspective:  what has the person’s life been like?  Has there been a time when he or she struggled with having enough money to buy food?  Survivalism and the fear of not having basic needs met can last a lifetime and leave an imprint on one’s soul.  Try to put yourself in the person’s shoes: to them, their behavior is serving a purpose.  They need to have as much food as possible to ensure survival against a threat (a natural disaster, a war, a famine, etc).  Food is comforting to them.  Don’t judge; try to understand the causes, reasoning, and purpose of the behavior.

Ultimately, it is the person struggling with the problem who needs to define it is a problem.  As with all types of recovery journeys, it is only theirs; no one can do it for them.  If you see that it is impacting their life in a negative and limiting way, gently talk with them about your observations and then seek help.  The issue is not about the food. I feel like I should scream that from the rooftops sometimes!  It can be relieving to discover that the food does not have to play such a major role in one’s life and that when the deeper issues are nurtured, peace with food and self can be found.


Something good this way comes: the arrival of autumn and the gratitude it brings

As I sit near the window in my office, I feel the first fall breeze of the year.  Yes, I know it is not yet technically autumn, but it sure is on its way.  September just began, and to me this signifies the blossoming of my favorite season — full of rich smells, pumpkin pies, cinnamon lattes, crunchy auburn leaves, and an array of aspen trees shimmering in color.  I welcome this time of year because it signifies a new chapter…almost a slowing down and relaxing time after a hot and hectic summer.

I am a believer in the visceral and powerful impact of scents.  Have you ever smelled something and were immediately taken back to a childhood memory coupled with an intense emotional feeling?  That is not all in your head; there is evidence that our noses can be directly linked to our memory bank and when we smell a certain scent, we might recollect a memory or an experience that had been long forgotten.  This power is ever-present for me during autumn.  Autumn boasts the richest, most soothing, most affecting smells of all year round.  As the earth prepares for the winter, it offers us in its cool breeze the opportunity to churn our own soil and see what comes up.

What does the arrival of fall signify to you?  To me, autumn produces an abundance of gratitude.  Just one year ago, I was working hard to get my business off the ground.  Now, one year later, my practice is blooming and blossoming and has so much promise still to offer.  I am grateful for the work I have been able to do in the field of eating disorder recovery and counseling with other issues, and cannot wait to experience what this coming year has to offer.  It truly shows me that when you put your heart into something, truly dedicate your passion to your dream, that there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

I came across a quote that aptly described my experience with gratitude this past year:

“Praise the bridge that carried you over.”  ~George Colman

I like this quote because it speaks to building bridges that get you to the destination that you are searching for.  It also reminds us to not forget the steps and trials we have endured to get to that side.  I would like to add that there will always be another bridge to cross and by acknowledging and praising the prior bridges, we can feel empowered to continue building and climbing — even if upcoming bridges are more daunting in structure.

What bridges have you built and crossed in the past year?  Which part of your bridge are you standing on right now?  There is no “should”s in this concept; you are at the point in your journey where you are meant to be.  For me, I have crossed the bridge I built over the first year of starting my practice.  Though I am on the other side of that bridge, I have more designs in my mind that will be built into bridges: workshops, groups, classes, speaking events, seminars — all things that I want to produce or take part in over the next year.  I also know about myself that I can get overwhelmed easily, so I must take care not to build too many bridges at once (or else one might get burned down!).

Another aspect of the quote that speaks out to me is that perhaps, you crossed a bridge that was challenging, in some ways painful, or perhaps damaging.  Can you still praise a bridge such as this?  Perhaps an example of this would be healing from a loss that you experienced over the past year.  Do you wish that you had to endure that loss? Probably not.  But it happened, and what can you take with you about that experience — what did you learn, how did you grow, what can you praise about it?  As difficult as it is to praise painful things, I think that looking at all events in a constructive way (how did they benefit/impact your identity? your life experience?) can be very empowering and healing it is own way.

So, fall arrives, and washes away the heat that has beat down on us for so many days.  With it, autumn brings a new chapter — school starting again, perhaps moving away to college or starting a new job.  While a certain level of anxiety is natural with change, we also are invited to create the new chapter that we desire to enter.  I am looking at this autumn with gratitude for what I have built, and for what I have presently in my life.  I also am using those bridges to reinforce the hard work I still yet have to do in building new bridges.  This is exciting for us all!

Below is a quote that I try to say everyday as a sort of mantra.  Try it out for yourself.  It is full of renewal and inspiration!

“As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily.  The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.” ~Terri Guillemets